Christ the King A

Jesus appears as the judge of the world, in the fullness of his glory, surrounded by angels and seated upon his throne with all the nations assembles before him.  But this judge acts like a shepherd of the righteous and unrighteous and separates all people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats to his right and his left.  And to those on his right, he announces the good news.  “’Come, you who are blessed by my Father.   Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.   For I was   hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”  And then he turns to his left.  You are not saved for you have failed to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty.  You ignored the stranger and failed to clothe the naked.  You did not visit the ill or the imprisoned.  Nothing but torment is promised.  (I hate to pick on you just because you are on the left.  However, if you had the read the readings beforehand you would certainly seated yourself on the right side.  That of course includes the remote possibility that Catholics can change their Sunday seats.)

Despite the different outcomes of their salvation, they both have one thing in common.  Neither the righteous nor the unrighteous had any idea that they were serving Jesus when they were ministering to the least of the least.  The righteous say it with wonder that they had no idea it was Christ.  The unrighteous are angry; for surely if they had known it was Christ they were serving they would have acted differently.  How could they be expected to know that Jesus would be hidden among the least of his brothers and sisters.

And yet, perhaps they should have known.  This is the last Sunday reading of the liturgical year before we begin a new year with the onset of Advent.  This is also the last great teaching in Matthew’ Gospel before the passion of Jesus begins.  This is the story of the man who called those who mourn blessed and claimed the meek shall inherit the earth.  The one who urged his followers to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies and to walk the extra mile.  The one who touched the unclean and approached and healed lepers.  The one who opened his table to sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.  The one whose compassion moved him to heal all who had faith, whose power as master was spent as a servant to any one’s needs.  The one who himself would become the least of the least, arrested, broken, humiliated and finally crucified.  Of course he was among the least of his brothers and sisters for he was always there.

Why choose the least over the most prominent or the most obvious?  If he were present most strongly there, we could afford to dismiss the dignity of anyone.  If he is the least then everyone must be accounted for everyone counts.   The hungry must be fed, the stranger welcomed and the prisoner given care for that is how we serve the Lord.  If Jesus is among the least, then no one can be overlooked.

So it seems our very salvation hinges on serving the least of our brothers and sisters.  But that is tricky business like trying to embrace a shadow.  The least are not just the poor, but it always includes the poor.  The least are not just the immigrant, although it always includes the immigrant.  The least are not just those who despair, but it always includes the desperate.  The least are those who are least consequential in our lives.  Those whose existence matters less to us, whose welfare does not affect our welfare.   Well, except for our salvation.

We live big lives with big plans.  We are striving to move forward with a future full of expectations to fulfill.  We tend not to be bothered by those we have passed in life, whether it is the kid outside our social circle or the person who has never been promoted.  We tend not to deal with those whose lives do not impact us as we strive to our impressive and often worthy goals.  But the Christ is calling from the pain of the present and asking us to be aware.  To slow down to find him right now, not in the future.  To find him where we are and not where we are heading.  To discover him in the small and not the big.

It becomes a very important question.  Who is least in your life?  The family member you cannot forgive?  The person you have forgotten?  The scene you don’t want to remember?  The neighborhood three miles away scourged by violence and hunger?  Go there.  That is your salvation, for there you will find Christ.  St. Vincent de Paul said the least are God’s gift to us. We must serve them as our patrons and masters.

And where there is Christ, there is joy.  We hear the beckoning promise of the king.  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.   Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  Each encounter with the least is an encounter with the living Christ.  How beautiful is the road on which he leads us!  When we feed the hungry, we are fed salvation.  When we give drink to the thirsty, we know true satisfaction.  When we welcome the stranger, we embrace Jesus.  When we care for the sick, we know God’s healing.  When we visit the prisoner we know the freedom of eternal life.  And finally, we will be ready for our true home, our true goal and destiny, the only future worth living for where there will be no least and no greatest.  There will only be righteous sharing in the joy of God.